Monday, November 4, 2013

Who Says Dynamics of Race & Class Don't Exist On The Walking Dead?


The Walking Dead is currently so popular, while at a conference in New Mexico I've seen a call for papers looking to create a whole academic nerd gathering around it. Which only says to me that a lot of smart people are investing a lot of time writing about what this show says about our lives and our world. And to me, that 'ish never gets old.

So when I recently came across an article by Holly L. Derr titled, "A Feminist Guide To Horror Movies, Part Six: The Final Chapter," I was interested in what she had to say from the headline alone. I didn't expect to get a summarization for what she hopes to see in horror films in the future, and although on the surface she does make fair points, I would challenge her to do a little bit of homework and find genre films with more people of color to remedy her reasonable concern for the lack of diversity in mainstream horror films. But I digress. Here's the passage that had my inner voice blabbing:

"I’m loving that zombies are popular, but they have the potential to do so much more than ask “how will people behave at the end of the world,” a la The Walking Dead. Unlike today’s zombie stories, George Romero’s classics did not assume that race and class would disappear with the apocalypse; in his movies, how people behave at the end of the world also says a lot about how our world works now. Oddly, the only pre-apocalypse social structure that remains in place in contemporary zombie stories is gender roles. I’d love to see a zombie apocalypse flick that either deals directly with class, race and gender–or does not automatically put women in charge of laundry."

On the contrary. How people behave at the end of the world is indicative of race, class, and gender. I look to The Walking Dead season three as a perfect example of a intersectional race, class, and gender examination. In the episode "Arrow On The Doorpost", we find Rick and The Governor, the white male, not so coincidental leaders of two groups of survivors at odds with one another but decide to supposedly call a truce. When Andrea, a white female lead tries to play mediator, she is patronized and told leave. She protests weakly, but soon obliges. The Governor should've just wrote 'No Girls Allowed' with a big, red marker on a piece of paper and taped it to the front door.

The fact that Andrea's insight into both characters of each man and the people from both camps, her intelligence from her prior life as a lawyer for goodness sake, and the overall sympathy that she felt as the one tragically stuck in the middle meant absolutely nothing to either men; The Governor trapped in a web of cognitive madness and ego mania while Rick, a passive do-gooder who never critiques the structures in place. When we only see the gender dynamics at play in this scene, we ignore the socioeconomic, top tier positioning of Rick and The Governor as white males. In addition, what counts in this scene is the fact that Black and Latino men are utterly underdeveloped and most times, soon dead to save their white counterparts and the black female character to watch during season three, Michonne is mentioned as the tension between Rick and The Governor progresses to an uneasy boil when he lifts his eye patch and declares, "I want Michonne."

Avid season three viewers know the reason why, but some intelligent folks pointed out the pretty overt racial underpinnings of that scene and further, Rick's consideration for the sake of his group:

"I have to admit, it makes me a little uneasy that two white fellas are thinking about giving a black woman to yet another white guy. In plantation country, no less. What is this, Mississippi in 2012?"

If we go back a little further into the season, another brilliant piece points to the fact that the 'Michonne in Woodbury' sub-plot is a testament to hegemonic, race, gender, and even class (translated as the lost creature comforts of secure shelter, bed, shower facilities, and so forth) structures. And because Michonne refused to consent to The Governor's white male dominance of a "new" society, she became an instant threat to both his declared space and position. She was a threat to the idea that no one (white) man has to be in charge. That everyone's life is valuable and critical for survival, and the most important thing is knowing how to save your own life. Through Michonne's persistent and unwavering agency as a survivor and yes, a Black woman, the audience was able to see the insidiousness of Woodbury through the eyes of a body that wouldn't have belonged or even been fully welcomed pre- zombie apocalypse to what we can view post- zombie apocalypse as the ideal middle-class.

The takeaway from the lion's share of season three's character study's is another notch for antiqued ideals, tragically held even more dear when the world is in ruins and people are desperate for some normalcy instead of daring themselves to render ideas about race and gender obsolete in the face of reverting back to pure survival. Color, gender, and wealth has no bearing on who a horde of walkers can devour first.

This is probably asking too much, but to assume race and class has disappeared in The Walking Dead universe is ignoring subtext, main text, and the meaning of power found through the characters of color who have been on the show. It definitely shows "how people will behave at the end of the world," and it adds displays of America's sociocultural history with race, gender, and class along with it.

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